Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Study: How Climate Change Threatens Mountaintops (and Clean Water)

This winter the West Coast of the US is getting blasted with snow, helping to end a long drought for CA and other states.  A reminder, as is this story, of the precious role mountain tops play in our eco-system, including bringing clean water, many miles away, to urban centers.

Simple put, "humanity relies on mountains". Let us protect them as if our life truly depends on them.

Mountains are far more than rocks. About half of the world's drinking water filters through their high-elevation forests, plants, and soils, among other natural benefits.

Now, a new first-of-its kind study, in the journal Nature, shows how these mountain ecosystems around the globe may be threatened by climate change.

Rising temperatures over the next decades appear likely to "decouple" key nutrient cycles in mountain soils and plants, an international team of sixteen scientists reports. This is expected to disrupt the function of mountaintop ecosystems, their study suggests, as plant communities above and at treeline are thrown into turmoil faster than trees can migrate uphill in a warmer world

"Humanity relies on mountains," says Nathan Sanders, an ecologist at the University of Vermont, who helped lead the new study that gathered data at treeline in New Zealand, Colorado, Canada, Australia, central Europe, Japan and Patagonia. "We found in all these places that temperature change drives many other kinds of change, potentially disturbing biodiversity, and that could have a profound effect on the ecosystem services mountains provide to people -- like clean water."

The new study overcame a problem researchers have wrestled with for years: that the effects of climate change occur over a much longer time than the duration of traditional scientific experiments. And "most experiments are not well suited to study responses of large, long-lived plants such as trees," notes Jordan Mayor, a postdoctoral researcher who, with ecologist David Wardle, led the new study from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

Instead of greenhouse-style experiments, with artificial warming chambers to heat up plots of soil, the team used elevation as a surrogate for climate warming. The scientists determined that--in seven temperate mountain regions around the world--about 900 feet of elevation drop yields the same average temperatures that the higher spot is expected to experience in eighty years.
"This approach allows prediction of effects of warming in real mountain ecosystems without the problems that plague experiments," Mayor says.

The predictions are worrisome. For example, "we see that at lower elevations the nitrogen cycle speeds up with warming," says University of Vermont ecologist Aimée Classen, a co-author on the new study. So the scientists expect that global warming will improve the nitrogen nutrition available to mountain plants. However, decreasing elevation did not increase the availability of phosphorus, another key nutrient for plants. In other words, as mountaintops warm, "you're like to get this disconnect--a decoupling--between the balance of those two nutrient cycles that are needed to build plant materials," Classen says. Over decades and centuries, this lost balance between nitrogen and phosphorus could "slow productivity," of mountaintop ecosystems, she says, threatening their health and the downslope benefits they provide to other plants, animals and people.

"All the climate models assume that plants can just march up the mountains as it gets warmer," says UVM's Classen. "But this study shows that march might not be so easy."

"Lots of experiments have now shown that climate warming can have really important effects on ecosystems in the short term and under controlled conditions," says David Wardle. "Our results serve as a distributed 'natural experiment' to add to this knowledge by showing that climate warming is likely to have large, long-term effects in natural ecosystems, that these effects are pervasive and probably irreversible."

"This study looks at mountains to show how ecological linkages can become unlinked with climate warming," says UVM's Nathan Sanders, "and shows that it's a global phenomena."

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Protect N.Y.’s own grand canyon

Hidden, natural treasures are everywhere.  Even, as we see here, within miles of urban centers.

Protecting them, though, will not be easy.  Whether from normal decay, man's waste littering their beauty or possible exploration of their shelves, there's many threats to our natural capital.

Preserving our biodiversity is paramount.  We've lost much of it already to over development and a lack of foresight.  Now, though, we have no excuses for failing to act and take aggressive steps to insure the survival of these natural jewels that anchor our quality of life and well being.

Protect N.Y.’s own grand canyon

by John Calvelli

The Grand Canyon is one of the extraordinary and amazing natural jewels found in America, and indeed in the world. It is believed that no European Americans even saw the canyon until the early 1800s, and it was not fully explored until John Wesley Powell’s expedition down the Colorado River in 1869. It wasn’t until 1919 that the Grand Canyon became a national park.

Today, Americans take it for granted that the splendor of the Grand Canyon is protected for future generations. But you would likely be surprised if I told you that a canyon of similar size, teeming with biodiversity but unprotected from key threats such as oil, gas, and mineral exploration and extraction, is sitting right here in New York’s backyard, a few hours’ ride from the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

That’s because it is underwater.

The Hudson Canyon is a vast and mostly unexplored chasm that was carved by the Hudson River during the last Ice Age. The canyon is a part of the underwater ecological splendor of the New York seascape, for which most New Yorkers are only beginning to have an appreciation.

Located just 100 miles southeast of New York City, the Hudson Canyon is the East Coast’s largest submarine canyon and one of the largest in the world. It is home to deep sea cold-water corals that provide food and shelter for many other species, including migratory whales, sharks, sea turtles, seabirds, crabs, tunas and swordfish

Scientists are still only beginning to understand the complexity and richness of the ecology of offshore underwater canyons. But that does not make them any less crucial to threatened wildlife, or make them any less incredible.

Not too long ago we were dumping trash directly into the ocean. I recall how as a young legislative staffer working with then-Assemblyman Eliot Engel, we raised awareness of the “syringe tide” of washed up hospital waste that back then caused hundreds of beach closures and an estimated $1 billion in lost revenue to the local tourism industry.

Thankfully, those dumping practices have stopped and more recently, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council has proactively protected fragile gardens of coldwater corals, sponges and anemones from damaging fishing gear. These species are critical for maintaining a thriving marine ecosystem.

However, just like the Grand Canyon in the 19th century, which fell under threat from mining, drilling and railroad interests before it was protected, the Hudson Canyon faces an uncertain future. It has known deposits of oil and methane gas and is threatened by human activity, including fossil fuel and mineral exploration and extraction.

There is a long history of fossil fuel exploration off the Atlantic coast. At least 50 methane seeps, usually a sign of significant deposits below, have been found in Hudson Canyon. There are currently no operational wells, but the federal government and the petroleum industry continue to show interest in exploring potential reserves in the region.

The slow-growing canyon ecosystems take hundreds or even thousands of years to form but can be irreversibly wiped out by destructive mining practices or unintentional spills.
(NOAA Ocean Explorer)

It’s time to address this threat. Last month, the Wildlife Conservation Society’s New York Aquarium led a diverse coalition of aquariums, non-profit organizations, local fishing groups, scientists and other stakeholders in submitting a proposal to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to designate the Hudson Canyon a National Marine Sanctuary.

Creating such a sanctuary in these waters would preclude oil, gas and mineral exploration and extraction, helping to maintain fish and wildlife populations and ensure a future for the fisheries and tourism industries that depend on healthy ocean ecosystems.

The 20 million people who reside in and around New York City, a metropolis surrounded by water on all sides, are mostly unaware that the waters surrounding them serve as a feeding ground, nursery and migratory corridor for hundreds of species of aquatic wildlife, including whales, sharks and sea turtles — some of which are threatened or endangered.

If any place is worthy of protection, it is our very own underwater Grand Canyon.

Friday, January 27, 2017

In Nepal, 'appalling' river runs cleaner in wake of unusual partnership

This is an interesting story.  It gets to the heart of the people equation in building a cleaner, brighter future.  Our willingness to work together to restore and maintain our quality of life and eco-system.

In Nepal, 'appalling' river runs cleaner in wake of unusual partnership

Path to progress

Campaigns to clean the river have often quickly fizzled out. But the Safai Abhiyaan is in its third year and attracts hundreds of people who are willing to brave the polluted waters every Saturday to fish out trash.

On an April morning last year, more than 100,000 people congregated on the banks of the Bagmati, the largest river flowing through this city.

As news helicopters whirred overhead, people lined up along the length of the river on either side and linked arms from Sundarijal, in the hills north of Kathmandu, to Chobhar, at its southern tip, forming a “human chain” 17 miles long.

 “The message was: we will not let you litter in the river,” says Ram Sah, a volunteer at Bagmati Safai Abhiyaan, the movement that organized the event to mark its 100th week of work.
Campaigns to clean the river – which once featured in a TV show called “Bijok Bagmati,” or “Appalling Bagmati” – crop up here every few years, full of airy promises, only to quickly fizzle out. But the Safai Abhiyaan, now past its 180th week, attracts hundreds of people who are willing to wade knee-deep into turbid water every Saturday to fish out trash.
The range of its volunteers – from local celebrities and police and Army officers to senior bureaucrats and politicians – has lured in people like Mr. Sah, an activist and the movement’s unofficial secretary.
“I thought, ‘If they’re willing to do this, it's my responsibility to help,’” he says.

In Nepal, where public demands get short shrift and whispers of corruption stalk anything government-affiliated, the movement is an unusual partnership between the two. Guided by the public and backed up by police and government agencies, it’s been able to take on politically charged issues too volatile to handle otherwise.

While this arrangement has its detractors, Sah points to outcomes: In three years, some 7,000 metric tons of garbage – an estimated 80 percent of the river’s solid waste – has been dredged from its waters and extracted from its banks. Testing shows levels of organic and inorganic pollution have declined throughout, in some stretches by as much as three to five times. Upstream, where the water is clearer, people are fishing again for the first time in decades.

For residents like Deuman Sherma, a squatter who’s occupied a riverfront shanty in Kathmandu’s Sinamangal neighborhood for 15 years, the effects are hard to overstate. A steady trail of garbage – tangled masses of jute and plastic – floated past his house just a few years ago. More distressingly, the river used to emit a powerful stench that enveloped his entire neighborhood, growing more putrid in the winter.

“Before, when we had anyone over – guests – it was mortifying,” he says. “It doesn’t smell at all now.”

 'We'll do it'

In early 2013, Leela Mani Paudyal, then chief secretary and the highest-ranking bureaucrat in the Nepali government, was approached by members of the Gayatri Pariwar, an activist spiritual group based in India. The Pariwar’s Nepal branch had invited 500 Indian members to clean the Bagmati, which drains into the Ganges river in India and is sacred to Hindus, and was seeking government assistance.

 Mr. Paudyal refused – but not for lack of interest. “I told them, ‘We polluted the Bagmati, and we're bringing people from India to clean it up? I can't accept that,’” he says. “I said we would clean the mess we made ourselves.”

Leveraging his position in the government, Paudyal, widely considered the movement’s leader, brought state and security agencies on board. He arranged weekly meetings in his office, where volunteers gathered to demand progress reports from agency representatives.
Initially, there was skepticism about yet another Bagmati campaign.

“People called us frogs,” Kishore Shahi, an early organizer, says chuckling. “They said we would jump around frantically for a few weeks and then leave. Later, when they saw how regular we were, going every Saturday, they said we must be gobbling up NGO dollars.”
Over the next year, however, the movement began drawing thousands each week, a turnout Paudyal chalks up partly to good showmanship – when testing established that the water in the Guhyeshwari had become fit for washing, for example, he held a mass public bathing session there.

Ram Sah and another volunteer remove trash from the Bagmati in the Guhyeshwari, next to the Pashupatinath Temple, a major religious site in Kathmandu, Nepal.. Atul Bhattarai

Paudyal and others have been careful to protect the image of the movement as volunteer-driven. Decisions are still made in the open, by consensus. For the sake of transparency, volunteers declined to register the movement as an organization and have banned fundraising in its name. And they’ve kept it apolitical, shutting out what Paudyal calls the “corrupting influence” of Nepali politics.

This approach has proved useful as the movement has started handing over sections of the river to local communities to manage in order to tackle thornier issues, such as encroachment, littering and sewage, where they butt up against vested, often political, interests.

Despite its results, the movement has aroused concern in some who take issue with how it operates. “It’s not a volunteer movement at all,” says Hari Sharma, a social scientist. “It works because of the police.” He pauses. “But maybe that’s the only way you can get things done in Nepal.”

Volunteers argue they only needle authorities into doing what they should have been doing all along: enforcing regulations. But to some under their glare, police backing feels like a way to enable unconventional tactics.


On a recent Saturday, Rewoti Panta, a resident of an apartment block facing the river, was participating in the cleanup when he saw a brawl erupting outside his building. A crew of volunteers, fingers stabbing at a land deed, was trying to shut down a road leading out of the building, alleging it encroached on government property. Under their ambitious “beautification” plans, the riverfront was to be re-treed; the construction of a “yoga park” was in the planning stages.

Protesting the sudden offensive, apartment residents parked themselves on the bulldozer. A shouting match broke out. As police looked on, volunteers grabbed nearby rocks and within minutes had cemented together a crude wall to seal off the road.

“Everyone is a big shot when the police is behind them,” Mr. Panta exclaimed afterward as volunteers emptied from the site. “What can we do against that kind of force?”
But Mr. Shahi claims most people are grateful after they experience the benefits of a cleaner river. He stresses the movement’s role in diverting sewage – the biggest pollutant – from the water, something Rajesh Singh, project manager in the government office that monitors the Bagmati, declares is its biggest victory.

Inside the Kathmandu valley, sewer lines run alongside the Bagmati for 12 of its 17 miles, breaking off in squatter settlements, rows of brick-and-concrete shanties that slope downward on the riverbank, blocking the path a sewer line would take. In the Sinamangal neighborhood, squatters had rebuffed government attempts to install lines for two years.
“When government officials went to survey the area, the residents beat them up,” says Shahi. “But we told them we weren’t coming to uproot anyone, only to help.”

Shahi says squatters were willing to negotiate and make concessions after it became apparent their interlocutors were not government agents. But even here force played a hand – Paudyal warned squatters he would return with bulldozers if they didn’t pull down the offending houses.
Eventually they gave in, allowing 2 miles of mains to be laid down. Despite his initial misgivings about the project, Mr. Sherma, a resident, says he’s thankful for it whenever he passes by Thapathali, a downstream spot where squatters have not yet relinquished land and the water is still murky and rank.

“It helps us all to be saved from the Bagmati’s pollution,” Sherma says, noting the threat of disease the sewage had posed. “I worried about our health and my kids’ health. I feel like a weight has been lifted from my heart.”

Spurred on by the visible change in the Bagmati, campaigns operating under similar models have sprung up in more than 20 cities and towns across Nepal. In Pokhara, a lakeside city 120 miles west of Kathmandu, more than 1,000 people turn up each week.

The aim of these campaigns, Sah says, is to restore rivers to their state 30 years ago. That means removing trash, pushing back on encroachment and clearing the way for new sewer lines.

Yet Sah maintains that in some ways these are cosmetic measures: ensuring the river stays clean will require another kind of effort. “We can’t keep cleaning if people keep polluting,” he says, insisting the Bagmati campaign has its sights set higher.

“Something fundamental is wrong: we think of the river as a trash can,” Sah says. “That is what we have to change.”

What Trump Can and Can’t Do to Dismantle Obama’s Climate Rules/CNBC

We know the world of sustainability is looking for some silver lining out of the rapid changes swirling in DC.  This article offers some rays of hope.

However, we repeat our mantra that DC, and Trump, are small players on the global road to building a smarter planet.  Each one of us can keeps us on track by making good investments, and reaping returns, in efficiency, clean tech, clean energy, cleaner transportation and an aversion to over consumption.  The rising tides of this energy and digital industrial revolution will drown out those who fail to see the incredible economic and environmental awards waiting for all of us:

What Trump Can and Can’t Do to Dismantle Obama’s Climate Rules

Coral Davenport
3 Hours Ago

The New York Times

President Trump campaigned on sweeping promises to eliminate former President Barack Obama's major environmental regulations and "get rid of" the Environmental Protection Agency. On Tuesday, Mr. Trump offered a down payment on those promises, with memorandums clearing the path to construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines. He is expected to roll back a few more rules, including some on coal production, in the next few weeks.
Although dismantling Mr. Obama's most far-reaching climate regulations can be done, it will take legal acumen and a lot of time – perhaps longer than a single presidential term. Here's a look at what Mr. Trump can and can't do, and how quickly, to roll back environmental regulations.
Coal mining on federal lands
A year ago, Mr. Obama incited the coal industry's rage with a stroke-of-the-pen executive action banning new leasing of coal mines on public lands. Mr. Trump has the same authority to undo the ban.
"That was Obama hitting the pause button, and Trump can unpause it," said Richard J. Lazarus, a professor of environmental law at Harvard University. "Anything that was done without a lot of process up front can be undone without much process."
However, it's not clear how much impact this move would have on jobs or the environment. It affects only mines in Wyoming and Montana, where coal companies had for years shed jobs because of increased automation and declining coal demand.
Limits on mountaintop-removal coal mining
"This one is low-hanging fruit," said Mr. Lazarus of a new coal mining regulation. On Jan. 19, the day before Mr. Trump took office, the Obama administration completed a rule to reduce mountaintop-removal coal mining, which uses explosives to blast off the tops of coal-seamed mountains. Coal companies oppose the rule, which prohibits them from using the technique near streams that could be polluted by the resulting rubble.
The rule will probably be undone quickly. Under the 1996 Congressional Review Act, Congress can scrap new regulations within 60 legislative days of being completed, by a simple 51-vote majority in the Senate. While the law has been used successfully only once in its 20-year history, it is expected to enjoy a newfound prominence soon. The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of coal-rich Kentucky, has already vowed to use the act to undo what he calls "this regulatory assault on coal country." With the support of all 52 Republicans and probably Senator Joe Manchin III, a West Virginia Democrat, as well, the rollback of this rule is expected to be on Mr. Trump's desk within weeks.
Regulation on methane emissions
In November, the Interior Department completed a rule reining in the venting of methane, a potent planet-warming greenhouse gas, from oil and gas drilling facilities. Oil and gas companies called the rule expensive and burdensome. Like the mountaintop-mining rule, this one falls into the 60-day window allowing Congress to quickly overturn it with a 51-vote majority It is expected that the fossil fuel industry's allies in the Senate will quickly push to do so.
Rolling back vehicle fuel economy standards
While it can't be done quickly, there is a clear legal path for the Trump administration to undo one of the hallmarks of Mr. Obama's climate change policies: a 2011 regulation requiring automakers to build fleets of cars by 2025 that achieve an average fuel economy of 54.5 miles per gallon. The rule, jointly issued by the E.P.A. and the Transportation Department, would force manufacturers to build next-generation electric cars. It could reduce carbon emissions by about six billion tons, equivalent to removing a little more than the United States' emissions of carbon pollution for an entire year.
But the rule came with a loophole: a provision inserted by automakers to revisit it in 2017 if they found it too onerous. Just before Mr. Obama left office, the E.P.A. released a finding that the rule was not too costly for automakers to meet. But it did not do so jointly with the Transportation Department, leaving a legal avenue for the Trump administration to loosen the standards through that agency.
The chief executives of the biggest auto companies have already asked Mr. Trump to do just that, in a meeting with him this week. While Mr. Trump did not offer specifics, he did tell the automakers that he plans to ease their regulatory burden.
"It's not something that can be done with the stroke of a pen," said Jeffrey Holmstead, a former senior E.P.A. official in President George W. Bush's administration who has been mentioned as a possible deputy E.P.A. administrator in Mr. Trump's presidency. "It would likely take a year or 18 months. But it's not a heavy lift, from a legal perspective."
Rewriting regulations on climate change
The centerpiece of Mr. Obama's climate change policy is a 2015 E.P.A. rule curbing greenhouse gas emissions from electric utilities. It could shutter and replace hundreds of coal plants with wind and solar plants. Mr. Trump has vowed to eliminate the rule, but doing so could require years of court battles. He would also be required by law to come up with an alternate regulation.
Mr. Obama's climate rule has already been challenged in a federal court, where it is awaiting a verdict. It is expected to be appealed to the Supreme Court.
The Trump administration could refuse to defend the Obama rule in court, but environmental groups could continue to argue in its favor. Meanwhile, the Trump E.P.A. would have to create its own presumably more industry-friendly regulation, which could take about 18 months. But that rule would then assuredly be subject to a federal lawsuit, which itself would probably be appealed to the Supreme Court. In one possible but bizarre outcome, both the Obama climate rule and the Trump climate rule could spend years wending their way through the same courts.
"There are a number of ways this could play out as it goes through the courts, and it could take at least four to five years," said Richard Revesz, director of the American Law Institute at New York University. "Ultimately, what happens to it will likely be determined by the results of the 2020 presidential election."
Social cost of carbon
This obscure but powerful metric was created by Mr. Obama's economists to put a measurable price, $36 per ton, on damage inflicted by carbon pollution. Mr. Obama's E.P.A. plugged the social cost of carbon into formulas to create an economic justification for regulations that impose a measurable cost on polluters. By reducing or eliminating this metric, Mr. Trump's regulators could create an economic rationale to undo those rules and replace them with relaxed, industry-friendly ones.
Waters of the United States
Mr. Obama received angry resistance from rural America over his controversial "Waters of the United States" regulation. It was released in 2015 under the authority of the 1972 Clean Water Act, which gave the federal government broad latitude to limit pollution in major water bodies, like the Chesapeake Bay, the Mississippi River and Puget Sound, as well as small streams and wetlands that drain into those larger waters. But groups like the American Farm Bureau Federation called the rule a land grab, and Mr. Trump has vowed to get rid of it.
Mr. Trump's E.P.A. could revoke the rule. But it would be required to create a new one, venturing into complex legal territory as it tries to redefine the terms of federal waterways and wetlands. "That's not going to be easy," Mr. Holmstead said. "I believe they can do it, but it's likely to take several years."

Thursday, January 26, 2017

How Efficiency Is Wiping Out the Middle Class/NY Times

This is an aspect of efficiency we had not contemplated.  What an unintended consequence of doing more with less.

However, we know the inherent risks in unleashing the power of AI.  That is one of the greatest challenges we face.  Can we control them or they control us, and what does do to life on this planet?

Self-driving truck technology for travel on interstate highways, based on artificial intelligence, is already technically feasible. Today, about five million drivers are employed in the industry. A 20 percent reduction in this work force over the next 15 years would equate to a million lost jobs. CreditTony Avelar/Associated Press

I am concerned that my childhood dreams may turn into a nightmare.

Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which I first saw in 1968 at seven years of age, sparked my fascination with computers and artificial intelligence, and I have since focused my academic studies and career pursuits within this area.

Fast-forward to today. I still believe that A.I. and automation can keep bringing good to the world. Its effects on middle-skill workers, in America’s industrial Midwest and elsewhere, however, worry me.

It has been suggested that the significant job loss and career destruction illuminated by the 2016 presidential election are a result of bad trade deals and corporate greed. I disagree. It’s much more likely a result of computers, including significant advances in A.I., which have allowed us to optimize our economy as never before. Already, they have permitted the global economy to function as if it were in your backyard. In the next decade, they will take over a vast array of routine work, in new industries, affecting even more workers.

The economic dislocations that computers and artificial intelligence have unleashed have been vastly underestimated. And we are just in the early days.

Think about commercial trucking in America. A.I.-based self-driving truck technology for travel on interstate highways is already technically feasible. Today, about five million drivers are employed in this industry. Even a 20 percent reduction in this work force over the next 15 years equates to a million lost jobs.

One of capitalism’s bedrock promises — one that dates back to Adam Smith — is that competition in the free market benefits society at large. Somewhere along the line, intoxication with efficiency caused us to lose sight of that principle at the expense of workers. Getting back to that promise will require policy changes and a renewal of forgotten values.

The raw, widespread anger we saw during the recent election — and the unexpected swing of several industrial states from reliably blue to red — reflects in large part the intense despair that many middle-skill workers feel as they see their families’ economic prospects fade and social conditions deteriorate.

Trade and immigration have become boogeymen, while technological advances and the huge efficiency gains they bring truly underpin the “hollowing out” of the middle class behind the scenes. Industrial automation has been displacing workers for decades — particularly those doing repetitive, lower-skill work.

Exponential gains in computing power, along with innovations in software, analytical techniques and the rise of Big Data, mean that many white-collar occupations are due for disruption by machines too. According to a 2013 study by two Oxford University professors, almost half of all jobs in the United States are susceptible to “computerization” over the coming decade or two.

With so many at risk of being pushed aside by Smith’s invisible hand, no one should be surprised if people decide to push back....

LINK FOR STORY: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/25/business/dealbook/how-efficiency-is-wiping-out-the-middle-class.html 

Making Renewable Energy “Dispatchable”

Head on, as done here so well by Conservation Law Foundation, lets attack head-on a fallacy, so often repeated in some circles, that renewables are "too intermittent" to be a valuable source of power.  That is wrong and becoming more wrong each day as we see utilities adding storage to their arsenal.  

In fact renewables are working on so many levels...costs, production levels, bringing power production local, cutting long transmission and, yes, balancing grid demands.  And we have just scratched the surface on storage, on-demand technology, micro and smart grids.  Renewables fix costs long-term and product the environment.  This source is diverse and becoming even more mixed.  Clean energy turns unused assets like root tops into big revenue producers, and turns waste into gold.  Is there any other source so multi-dimensional in its value?

Wind power and clean energy

One of the biggest criticisms of renewable energy is that it is not “dispatchable.” “Dispatchable” electricity generators are the most useful ones to operators of the electricity grid, because grid operators can turn them on and off as needed, and more accurately control their output of electricity to keep the overall grid safe and reliable.
Although the criticism of renewable energy as non-dispatchable is believed by almost everyone, it is just wrong. Here in New England, renewable projects (specifically wind farms and run-of-river hydro-electric projects) have been fully dispatchable in the real time electricity market since May 25, 2016. This is a huge step forward that benefits both renewable energy developers (by increasing their profitability) and electricity customers (by lowering electricity prices).
The electricity grid in New England is run by the Independent System Operator-New England (ISO). In a previous blog, in September 2014, I reported on what were, back then, the ISO’s plans to make renewable generators in New England fully dispatchable. Those plans went live on May 25, 2016. After six months of operation, the ISO’s analysis of the program shows that it is working even better than the ISO had expected.
Today, 51 renewable energy facilities (22 wind, 29 hydro) in New England are fully dispatchable. They are located in every New England state:
Each of these generators is in constant communication via telemetry with the ISO Control Room in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Every five minutes, the ISO looks at the local wind or water flow conditions at the location of each of these generators; and every five minutes the ISO gives every generator a so-called “Do Not Exceed” (DNE) order, setting the maximum safe level for that generator to put electricity into the grid for that five-minute interval of time. As long as the generator does not go above its DNE level, the ISO considers the generator to be “within dispatch.”

How This Benefits Renewable Energy Developers

Renewable energy developers do not get paid for all the electricity they can produce; instead, they only get paid for the electricity that is bought by the ISO. Sometimes, renewable generators can produce more electricity than the ISO actually buys from them.
In fact, for years one of the biggest problems that renewable generators in New England have had is just this sort of curtailment by the ISO. In this context, “curtailment” occurs when, in order to maintain the safety of the overall electricity grid, the ISO tells generators to be off when they could have been on (or to produce less energy than their full capacity at that time). The ISO has sometimes had to do this to keep the electricity grid working properly, but the economic consequences for renewable developers were serious (and sometimes catastrophic).
Making renewable generators dispatchable has led to less curtailment, because the ISO is in more frequent contact with the renewable generators and can calibrate more accurately (and in smaller time increments) their actual output. In fact, since making renewable generators dispatchable in the real-time energy market, the ISO has curtailed those generators for 68% less time as compared to before May 25. Thus, renewable generators have made more money.
That is good for the generators and good for the environment. It makes new investment in renewables more attractive, and can have a meaningful effect on mitigating climate change. But what about electricity customers (you and me)?

How This Benefits Customers

Making renewable generators dispatchable has also benefited electricity customers by reducing the price of electricity in New England. I have written before about the price-suppression effect of renewable energy in the electricity market. And, in this blog, I explained that the ISO’s market rules say that only dispatchable resources are eligible to set price in the real time market.
Because renewable generators have no fuel cost, renewable energy is always cheaper than fossil-fuel electricity. That’s why the growth of renewable energy drives down electricity costs for consumers. In fact, this chart shows the direct correlation:

The green line at the top of the chart shows the projected growth of renewable energy in New England by year (measured in terawatt hours). The bottom, red line shows the associated decrease of energy prices. Those annual price decreases are caused directly by the presence of renewable energy on the system.
Now that renewable energy is dispatchable, it is eligible to set prices in the ISO-run markets. In fact, since May 25, 2016, renewable generators have set the price of electricity 13% of the time. This has led to savings for electricity customers.

Three Take-Home Lessons for New Englanders

Lesson One – Don’t let anyone tell you that renewable energy “isn’t dispatchable.”  Today, there are 51 renewable energy projects, in every state in New England, that are fully dispatchable.
Lesson Two – Don’t let anyone tell you that renewable energy is too expensive. The presence of renewable energy in the overall electricity market is driving down costs for consumers.
Lesson Three – Making renewable energy dispatchable in the real time energy market is a classic win-win situation.  Renewable energy developers benefit by selling more power and making more money. The environment benefits by creating more generous incentives for renewable energy and driving down carbon emissions. And ratepayers benefit from lower electricity prices.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Trump Revives Keystone Pipeline Rejected by Obama

Lot going on in the studio today, so not much time to elaborate right now on this NY Times story on Trump's push to open Keystone.  However, we will have much more later this week:

WASHINGTON — President Trump sharply changed the federal government’s approach to the environment on Tuesday as he cleared the way for two major oil pipelines that had been blocked, and set in motion a plan to curb regulations that slow other building projects.

In his latest moves to dismantle the legacy of his predecessor, Mr. Trump resurrected the Keystone XL pipeline that had stirred years of debate, and expedited another pipeline in the Dakotas that had become a major flash point for Native Americans. He also signed a directive ordering an end to protracted environmental reviews.

“I am, to a large extent, an environmentalist, I believe in it,” Mr. Trump said during a meeting with auto industry executives. “But it’s out of control, and we’re going to make it a very short process. And we’re going to either give you your permits, or we’re not going to give you your permits. But you’re going to know very quickly. And generally speaking, we’re going to be giving you your permits.”

The decisions expanded an effort to unravel much of the policy structure left by former President Barack Obama, who made fighting climate change a central priority. Just a day earlier, Mr. Trump formally abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an ambitious 12-nation trade pact negotiated by Mr. Obama.

In his opening days in office, Mr. Trump has also modified or reversed Mr. Obama’s policies on health care, abortion and housing while ordering a freeze of any pending regulations left behind by the former administration.

The pipelines were more about symbol than substance but generated enormous passion on both sides of the debate. Mr. Obama rejected the proposed Keystone pipeline in 2015, arguing that it would undercut American leadership in curbing the reliance on carbon energy. The Army sidetracked the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota last month in the waning days of the Obama administration.

Environmental activists quickly denounced Mr. Trump’s decisions. “Donald Trump has been in office for four days, and he’s already proving to be the dangerous threat to our climate we feared he would be,” said Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club.

Mr. Trump made clear on the campaign trail that he saw Mr. Obama’s environmental policies as a threat to the economy and dismissed climate change as a hoax perpetrated by China. Myron Ebell, a climate change denier who headed Mr. Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency transition team, has drafted a 50-page blueprint for how he could eliminate Mr. Obama’s climate change policies. “It is designed to implement all of the president’s campaign trail promises — every single one,” Mr. Ebell said this week in an interview.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

For Tomorrow's Show Part 3/Direct Energy

About Direct Energy

Who We Are

Who We Are
Direct Energy gives customers choice, simplicity, and innovation where energy, data, and technology meet.
We make energy work harder for our nearly five million home and business customers across North America. We compete to earn their business every day. We empower our customers with simple solutions to track, understand, and control the electricity and natural gas they use. We provide the insights they need to make smarter decisions, be more efficient, reduce their energy use, and save money.
Direct Energy will continue to lead energy innovation through connected experiences that make a difference in people's lives.

Our Footprint and History

Direct Energy is a large company with a history of impressive growth. Acquired by Centrica, plc in 2000, Direct Energy has steadily grown to approximately 6,200 employees and nearly 5 million customers in North America . We're backed by and are a wholly owned subsidiary of Centrica, plc with over 28 million customers on both sides of the Atlantic. Centrica is financially strong and is traded on the London Stock Exchange under the symbol CNA.
Headquartered in Houston, Texas with regional offices across North America, Direct Energy operates in 50 US states, the District of Columbia and 10 Canadian provinces.
  • Direct Energy is one of the largest residential energy retailers in North America based on customer numbers.
  • We provide residential natural gas and electricity products in in 13 U.S. states, as well as Alberta, British Columbia, and Ontario.
  • We provide the insights our customers need to make smarter decisions, be more efficient, reduce their energy use, and potentially save money.

Everyday Innovation

Building Partnerships and Developing Resources to Help Customers Make Smarter Energy Choices

The future of energy depends on consumer empowerment. Direct Energy places innovative tools into the hands of consumers, enabling them to make smart decisions for their homes and businesses.
Our everyday innovations include strategic partnerships and proprietary technologies that help guide consumers toward energy efficiency and potential monetary savings. Direct Energy provides accessible, practical tools and resources that are seamlessly incorporated into everyday practices.
When you invite Direct Energy into your home or business, we take that privilege to heart.

Direct Energy & Hive

Founded in 2012 by our parent company, Centrica, Hive is a family of beautifully designed smart products and services that enable people to manage and connect with their homes, wherever they are.
With Hive, customers can control their homes remotely through a smartphone, tablet or laptop. Created to make smart home technology accessible to everyone, Hive uses leading-edge innovation to develop products and services that are simple to use, effective and beautiful.

For Tomorrow's Show 2/Honey for Haiti


Something Sweet for Sustainable Change

The Honey For Haiti project works to design and implement sustainable development projects at Maison L'Arc-en-Ciel d'Haiti Orphanage. Our goal is to help this orphanage, which benefits children affected/infected with HIV/AIDS, create a sustainable source of income through agricultural and livestock based projects. 

The projects are financed by the sale of "Honey for Haiti", local Connecticut honey jarred especially for the cause. We also sell custom Tie-Dye T-Shirts, all-natural beeswax candles, and beeswax lip balm. Every dollar raised from the sale of our products goes directly to the implementation of our projects, including hen houses and chicken coops, pig pens, hydroponic farming facilities, and beekeeping initiatives. These activities provide hands-on vocational training for the teenagers, so they have a skill set to help them reintegrate into Haitian society.

For tomorrow's show?The Green Grid

Busy day tomorrow.  We are either recording or live on 3 segments.  Here's some base info on one of those.  The other two will follow:  Honey for Haiti and Direct Energy/Houston:

Tune in at Renewable Now.biz, WARL, WARA, 1320 and right here on Blogger by clicking on our ON-AIR button:


Monday, January 23, 2017

Renewable Now Network (RNN) Offers Fresh Perspective on Environmental Films and Programs at Prestigious Film Festival

As part of our coverage:

Providence, RI & Park City Utah - January 20, 2017 (Investorideas.com Newswire) Leading sustainability platform Renewable Now Network (RNN), is pleased to announce live stream, real-time social media, and blog coverage of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival from January 20-29. RNN millennial journalist Azzurra Catucci will be featuring environmentally-oriented films, documentaries, and programs focused on climate change and sustainability, including via a live simulcast of the January 21 Power of Story panel with the Honorable Vice President Al Gore and other luminaries at 2:30 CST at www.renewablenow.biz., under the moniker #RNNGreenGirl, using hashtags #RNNGreenBusiness #RNNGreenFilms #RNNGreenLiving.
#RNNGreenGirl will be reporting on the festival overall and the Sundance Institute's position as a leading voice and change agent in sustainability. In addition to offering a fresh perspective through the paradigm of a cutting-edge multimedia platform like RNN, #RNNGreenGirl will feature the festival audience's reactions to the issues posed through the artful lens of film, and what the average citizen is doing to effect change.
As Robert Redford, President and Founder of the Sundance Institute said, "Storytelling is the most impactful platform for calling people to act upon some of the most pressing issues of our time. Amid escalating threats to our environment, independent perspectives are adding the depth and dimension needed for us to find common ground and real solutions." Read more here at http://www.sundance.org/blogs/news/followup-to-an- inconvenient-truth-to-world-premiere-at-2017-sundance-film-festival-as-day-one-screening. Highlights of #RNNGreenGirl @Sundance include:
  • The world premiere of An Inconvenient Sequel, a follow-up to the watershed environmental documentary An Inconvenient Truth
  • The New Climate, a 14-documentary/short-film/Virtual Reality experiential program dedicated to conversations and films about environmental change and conservation.
  • The Power of Story panel, a collaborative Sundance Institute and Redford Center presentation of the world's most prestigious sustainability leaders including the Honorable Vice President Al Gore, with former President
Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives, producer Heather Rae (Frozen River, RISE), global social entrepreneur and philanthropist Jeff Skoll, and environmentalist and scientist Dr. David Suzuki, moderated by Democracy Now! Broadcast ournalist Amy Goodman live-streamed at https://www.sundance.org/projects/power-of-story-a-new-climate, also covered by RNN at www.renewablenow.biz.
"Storytelling about RNN's passion for the Earth's preservation is what drives our mission to change the ‘green' paradigm," said Peter Arpin, Executive Vice President of the Arpin Group and Founder & President of RNN. "We are grateful to Sundance for welcoming us into its world-renowned community, so we look forward to making our coverage showcase the festival at its very best." Peter Arpin will also discuss RNN's role at the festival on his radio show "The Business Side of Green" on Wednesday, January 28 and Wednesday, February 1 at 1:00 p.m. http://radio.securenetsystems.net/v5/WARL via podcasts, and in his own bloghttp://arpingreen.blogspot.com. Peter also has debuted his coverage via podcast: https://soundcloud.com/renewable-now/bsg-0379-azura-catucci-sundance-val-tutson-funderstorm.
ABOUT ReNewable Now Network (RNN)
The ReNewable Now Network (RNN) is the leading platform dedicated to advancing the three major principals of a sustainable lifestyle and business: environmental quality, economic prosperity, and social capital. Founded in 2012, RNN is the nexus where business, academia, and government merges with television, radio, cable, and online media to foster innovation in sustainability, while also creating tangible progress through the creation of new jobs, reduction in poverty, and the enhancement of our environment. The Renewable Now Network hosts weekly radio shows, podcasts, webinars, conferences and more with sustainability influencers, while producing research and development, and creating growth opportunities for private and public sector initiatives. For additional information on RNN, visit www.renewablenow.biz.
About Azzurra Catucci
Azzurra Catucci has been an RNN Associate Producer and Reporter for RNN for three years where she has covered a wide variety of sustainability stories. Beyond RNN, Azzurra is an ECO-Rep for Elon University in North Carolina where she is a Communications Fellow and the President of CinElon Productions, Elon's on-campus film production company. Follow her at https://twitter.com/acatucci21.
Media Contact
Beth Amorosi
Managing Director Fastlane Communications 917-208-7489 beth@fastlane.co
Interviews photos, video provided upon request.
More Info:
Investorideas.com Newswire
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Power of Story "The New Climate"/Renewable Now.biz

We carried this live on Sunday from Sundance Film Festival, now you get to enjoy it on our site.  Here's a link and description.  Either way go to Renewable Now.biz and enjoy:  http://renewablenow.biz/renewable-now-headlines.html

The Honorable Al Gore, 45th Vice President of the United States, will join the Festival’s Power of Story panel, a collaboration between Sundance Institute and The Redford Center, with former President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives, producer Heather Rae (Frozen River, RISE), social entrepreneur and philanthropist Jeff Skoll and environmentalist and scientist Dr. David Suzuki. A conversation between these prominent figures, who bring decades of direct experience with climate change and its effects, will be moderated by Democracy Now! journalist and broadcaster Amy Goodman today starting at 4:30 PM ET - See more at: http://renewablenow.biz/renewable-now-headlines.html#sthash.BjQIM9BX.dpuf

Ecotech Institute Debuts First-of-its-Kind "Clean Jobs Index"

This, to us, is very good news.  Our more informal data has shown steady, if not, at times, spectacular growth within the green economy.  Now we can track the results with great accuracy.

For us, again, this is the essence of the business side of green.  Pouring the right kind of growth into an economy--renewables replacing dirtier fuels, efficiency, clean tech, sustainable education models, R & D, new co's around triple-bottom line, smart city technology--and you created long-term jobs across every industry.  That growth, then, does not chew up our ecosystem or negatively impact our future health.  

Thanks so much to Investor Ideas.com for a great post, and to Ecotech Institute for better tracking clean jobs across the US.

Investorideas.com Newswire

Denver, Colorado - January 23, 2013 (Investorideas.com renewable energy newswire) After nearly a year of research, Ecotech Institute today revealed the first-ever "Clean Jobs Index", which aggregates all the available clean jobs in the U.S. The Index found that there were more than three million clean jobs available across the United States (3,014,785) in 2012. The Index breaks down clean jobs by state, with links to local jobs listings. In addition to providing objective information on jobs, the Index also looks at a variety of sustainability factors that affect citizens’ lifestyles, including alternative fueling stations, LEED projects, total energy consumption, energy efficiency, green pricing, net metering and state incentives.

Ecotech Institute, the first and only college focused entirely on training students for renewable energy jobs, initiated and produced the Clean Jobs Index using a wide variety of external resources. Ecotech will update the sustainability factors of the Index data on a quarterly and annual basis (depending on when new data is released) and monthly as new jobs are posted for hiring.

To determine what jobs are deemed clean jobs, Ecotech used the "green jobs" definition from the U.S. Department of Labor – Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which states that green jobs are either: (1) Jobs in businesses that produce goods or provide services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources, or (2) jobs in which workers' duties involve making their establishment's production processes more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources (http://www.bls.gov/green/). Ecotech then took this definition and used data from Burning Glass International, whose patented job aggregation technology searches for job listings from more than 17,000 sources, to create the Clean Jobs Index list of available positions.

"The Clean Jobs Index addresses the prevalence of clean jobs and takes a unique ranking approach to hot topics in the world of sustainability," says Colin Coyne, Managing Principal, The Coyne Group and LEED 2.0 Accredited Professional. "This tool is able to aggregate important factors that affect job potential, businesses, livability, politics and much more by using a methodology that is 100 percent objective and an interface that is clean, concise and practical."

Highlights from the Clean Jobs Index as of January 15, 2013 include:
Number of Clean Jobs in the U.S.: 3,014,785
Oregon is the number one state for the entire Clean Jobs Index, taking all factors into account. (See how other states rank at www.ecotechinstitute.com/cleanjobsindex).
Alaska is number one for clean jobs per 100,000 residents.
Idaho generates the highest percentage of energy by renewables at 85 percent.
Minnesota is number one for renewable energy and efficiency state incentives.
California ranks lowest in energy usage per 100,000 residents.
Massachusetts ranks highest for energy efficiency.
Maryland has the highest number of LEED projects per capita.